It Is NOT Death to Die
“It’s all relative” Is the motto of my generation. And I tend to agree with this idea. Everything finds its meaning by something outside itself. I measure by comparison. So in this sense, everything is relative, everything except God that is. Like all good lies there’s half a truth in the claim. But you see, God is eternally existent. He depends upon nothing to exist. The old theologians called it the “aseity” of God. Creation, however, is not self-sufficient and so creation is dependent upon another. That is what relative means.
Relative- considered in relation or in proportion to something else
Therefore, everything (that is created) is relative. So the pertinent question at hand is, “relative to what?” We tend to compare created things with other created things. But that is an awful lot like trying to draw straight lines with a crooked ruler. Everything is relative in its relationship to God. God is self-existent. He is not to be measured by anything but rather is the standard for everything. This is what God is getting at when He disclosed himself to Moses on the Mountain as “I am that I am.” This is because God cannot be compared to anything. He will not be likened anything in His creation. And so, He says, “I am that I am.” This is the reason why we are not to make graven images of Him. He cannot be measured. Rather, everything is measured up in comparison to Him.
This is quite an intimidating thought when you consider it for a while. I say that because, all of us are prone to measure ourselves against other created things. And let’s be honest, comparing ourselves against another person rather than measuring ourselves in light of who God is a paradigm shift. It isn’t wrong to per say to measure our progress or regress by how we compare to those whom we respect. But it is wrong if we consider them to be the standard. And this can happen quite subtly. But when we do allow the created things to be the standard, we are not only guilty of idolatry, we are also guilty of legalism. That relationship will have to be unpacked in another post. But the main idea here is that when we allow created things rather than the creator be the standard; we; by necessity, lower the standard.
In the book of Jonah, we see Jonah compared against several characters in the story and in each case, Jonah falls short. First, we see how Jonah compares to the mariners on the ship to Tarshish. These men, have been raised pagan. They know little if anything about the one true God. But in storm at sea they all become fearers of God, make sacrifices to Him, and vows. Jonah on the other hand, has to hit the bottom of the seabed before he calls out for help to the God he has known his whole life. Second, we see Jonah in contrast to Nineveh, and more specifically, her king. God had to directly speak twice to Jonah (not mention everything else that took place in chapter 1-2) to get Jonah to repent and obey. The king of Nineveh however, catches word secondhand on the judgment God is going to do to his kingdom and though he is given far less than Jonah, his repentance far exceeds that of Jonah’s. All of this is to Jonah’s shame. He doesn’t measure up even to the lowest of comparisons. But it gets far worse. In the last comparison, we see Jonah in comparison to the true and final standard; that is, God. Jonah is measured up by God in several ways:
- What angers Jonah
- What brings Jonah happiness
- Jonah’s compassion
- Jonah’s desire to die
WHAT ANGERS JONAH
We see in verses 1-2; 4-5; and 9 the anger of Jonah on display. And the reader has to ask, “what is it Jonah is angry about?” and even more important than that question is, “what ought to make Jonah angry?” Well in the text, Jonah is “exceedingly angry” over God showing compassion. More specifically, Jonah is boiling-hot, red, mad that God would show compassion to Israel’s enemies Nineveh. As mentioned they had before, Nineveh and its kingdom were responsible for much calamity in Israel. And we learn from 2 Kings 14:25 that Jonah had prophesied that God was going to expand the boundaries of Israel and restore them to their original state under King Jeroboam II, that is, in Jonah’s lifetime. And the restoration of Nineveh would be a real threat to that promise. And indeed it was. In a couple generations, a new people would forget their deliverance from God and return to their wicked ways and in 722 B.C. Nineveh put the Northern Kingdom of Israel into exile and captivity. In return however, in 622 B.C. God judged Nineveh and they were no more.
So Jonah was angry because Nineveh was being delivered was detrimental to Jonah and his homeland. But what ought to anger Jonah? In one word, sin. Sin is what angers God. Unrighteousness, disobedience, wickedness, rebellion, transgression, are what make god fiercely angry. And we saw that in that last chapter. God was absolutely angry because of the violence and wickedness of Nineveh. But they turned from their ways and so God also turned away from his anger against them. Jonah, however, was not mad about Nineveh’s opposition to God. He was mad about their opposition to Israel.
You parents know what I’m talking about. Ever been mad at your child for what they did because it was an offense against you without considering whether it was an offense against God? Teachers, police officers, all those who hold a place of management or authority, what makes you angry? Is it sin, or is it what inconveniences you? Jonah was falling terribly short in comparison to God. And I am afraid, we are no different in this way.
We know that Jonah was more concerned about Israel than he was righteousness because we are given a description of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and her king in II Kings 14:24-25 and we are told that the King Jeroboam II “did evil in the sight of the LORD; he did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat (his father), which he made Israel sin.”
Jonah wasn’t exceedingly angry about God expanding the borders of Israel under this wicked King and asking for death for the compassion He showed to them. But when God showed compassion to a repentant people he loses it. How about you, do you call out damnation on people while asking God to be merciful to you? You see, we are self-righteous just like Jonah was. But there is good news.
WHAT MAKES JONAH HAPPY
In verse 6 we get to see a different side to Jonah. Because of God’s intervention, Jonah is delivered from his anger and his evil. God ask Jonah if does him any good to be angry. We don’t know if Jonah storms off mad because he is playing the angry teenager or if Jonah takes this as the possible promise from God that he still plans on judging Nineveh. But in any case, Jonah sees no need to reply and heads out of the city from the East side and sets up camp on a hill in hopes to watch the fireworks. While Jonah waits for God’s judgment on Nineveh God graciously provides a plant to grow miraculous quick to deliver Jonah both from the harsh sun and his hot temper. Jonah, in his relief, becomes “exceedingly happy.” The word exceedingly that was used to describe Jonah’s anger in vs. 1 is now being used to describe his happiness in verse 6.
This begs the question, “what makes Jonah happy?” By all appearances we discern from the text that what makes Jonah happy is that which benefits him. When Jonah is preserved, comforted, served, or help, he is happy.
So if Jonah is made happy by what serves him and his goals the more crucial question we must ask again is, “What ought to make Jonah happy?” God rejoices in righteousness, obedience, and the salvation of the repentant sinner. We are told that heaven rejoices over the repentance and salvation of one person. How much joy do you think was in heaven when all 120,000 plus people repented and believe and so were delivered from God’s fierce anger? God is the first in-line to rejoice over the compassion given to His enemies. God loves His enemies. Did you know that?! “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Everyone one of us was an enemy of God but for those who have believed, we have been shown compassion and God is happy in this.
Can I ask you, “What makes you happy?” Do you rejoice and find great happiness in obedience towards God. Do you sing for joy when your enemies are shown mercy? Or is it that which serves you that brings you joy? Again, I find it quite disturbing how much we are more like Jonah than we are like the true standard. We fall miserably short don’t we? But there is good news.
ON WHOM DOES JONAH SHOW COMPASSION
In verse 10 we hear finally that Jonah shows compassion! And on whom do we see Jonah show compassion? Perhaps I should say “on what” because Jonah’s compassion is shown to a plant.
What provokes Jonah to such deep, rich, expressive compassion for this plant? Jonah is moved to compassion for the plant sadly, not for the plants sake, but for his own sake. The plant served his agenda, and the plants destruction is the destruction of Jonah’s comfort.
Sadly, the only compassion Jonah can muster up is selfish, self-serving compassion. Jonah shows compassion to others should their judgment affect him. Although Jonah’s compassion seems to be directed toward the plant, ultimately his compassion is for himself.
Is this true with all compassion, that compassion is inherently self-serving? What ought to be the basis for Jonah’s compassion? We see in God the true standard of compassion is sacrificial. Compassion ought not to be self-serving but costly. Compassion is to be rooted in love for the other. We know from the Bible, love is not self-serving but sacrificial. Compassion is the concern and pity for the sufferings of others. God’s compassion is a loving, sacrificial concern for the suffering of others. We see this is the life of Jesus. He is saddened, angered, and sympathetic for the suffering of others. God doesn’t show compassion in a selfish way, but in a sacrificial way and so ought Jonah.
Who do you show compassion to? What moves you to compassion? Is your compassion more like Jonah’s? Are you genuinely moved to sadness and compassion for another not because of the impact it has on you but because of the consequence it leaves with the one being pitied. You know, if God were to replace the plant Jonah lost with another, I foresee Jonah’s compassion for the dead plant being eliminated. If our compassion can be eliminated by replacement, it is a sure sign our compassion is not for the other but for ourselves.
I’ve heard of guilt being a strong motivation for people giving and helping the poor. There is a sense in which we may feel privileged and so guilty for having it better than someone else. So out of the guilt we feel we give. This is a perfect example of selfish compassion. Our giving and compassion should not be to alleviate our guilt, but out of a deep over-whelming flood of love for the other. So it seems we continue to look more like the prophet we are disgusted with than the God we marvel at. But there is good news.
JONAH’S DESIRE TO DIE
Jonah in verses 3; 8-9 is moved to such sorrow he longs to die. He can no longer find the desire to live. He wishes to die. What is it that moves Jonah to plead and pray to God to take his life? Jonah has been living under the ethic, “your life for mine.” Jonah has in every case been self-serving. Therefore, Jonah sees others prosperity as his loss. Everyone is competition to him. Competition that he must beat. And if the competition is blessed than indicates to him he is losing. Jonah cannot escape this mentality.
This mentality is the source of envy and greed. When Jonah saw Nineveh succeed and do well with God, this meant his team had to be losing. And if that’s going to be the case, Jonah wants to take his ball and go home. Notice the words, “better for me to die than live.” In others words, LORD if your plan is to use me to benefit others then I rather just die now. We’ve see prophets of God ask for God to take their lives before, but never in the wake of success. Moses and Elijah ask the same thing, but it is in the wake of the audience they are sent to being unrepentance and rebellious to God. They see no hope and want to throw in the towel. Conversely, Jonah is being used of God and because it is the gain of others he no longer wants to live. The only sacrifice and death Jonah is interested in is that which would be advantageous for him.
Can you relate to Jonah here? Do you struggle with greed, envy, resulting in constant battle of competition? Someone else getting the promotion means you didn’t get promoted. Someone else getting to be captain on the team means you don’t get to be captain. Someone else be appointed first chair in the orchestra means you get second. Your wife getting to sleep in means you have to get up early to tend to the kids? I could go on which examples we all wrestle with. We don’t rejoice when someone is ahead of us in traffic. We smile when we lead the highway. I regular point out the behavior in people to Ashley-Nicole (my wife) regularly when driving that if someone sees someone passing them, their instinct is to speed up from the speed they were previously comfortable going. Why? Because that car passing them appears to them as their loss.
I remember during the previous presidential campaign an event that will stick with me forever. I was benching at the YMCA and I overheard two grown men discussing their pick in the presidential race between Romney and President Obama. The news on the TVs in the weight room were discussing Romney’s income and assets. One man said to the other, “man I will never vote for Romney because is so filthy rich.” The other responded, “I know right?!” I was genuinely shocked by this. The basis for two grown men’s decision for who should lead the USA was not policy, character, principle, or beliefs. The driving engine behind both of these men’s choices was greed and envy. They saw Romney’s success as their loss. His riches as their defeat. And they wanted to “stick it to him.” That’ll make it even, and we’ll get back at you rich man! The point of this is not who we should vote for. The point is that we think in these terms just like Jonah sadly. We can all relate to one, many, or all of these examples. But there is good news!
While Jonah’s ethic has been, “your life for mine” God’s ethic revealed in Jesus Christ is “my life for yours.” Jesus Christ as the King over all did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. His life for ours. He gave His life that we may have life. He didn’t see others as competition but as opportunities to be a blessing. He saw someone succeed and he rejoiced. He gave His life that there may be gain for us.
This kind of dieing is compelling is it not? This kind of ethic is superior is it not? Jonah chose death if it meant relief from defeat. Jesus Christ saw death as a means to bless others. The apostle Paul states this truth in 2 Corinthians 4:11-12:
“For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.”
Friends we have great gain in the death of Jesus Christ. And we who join Him in His death get to experience the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. My life verse is found in Philippians 1:21:
“For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Do we believe this saints? If we treasure the death of Christ let us also follow in His footsteps. Let us not see the gift of grace and God’s compassion to be something to be selfishly clung to for our gain, but as a wonderful, boundless gift that is meant to be shared with all those around us. Let us not see people as competition but as opportunities to die that there may be gain or life in them. And in doing so, we will experience the power of the resurrection. We will learn to it is not death to die. It is gain! IT IS GAIN TO DIE BELOVED! Our loss is not our defeat! Our dieing is not death! Rather, we find our victory in the death of Christ and we join Him in it. And in dieing with Him, we will also be raised up with Him and seated with Him in the heavenly places!
“Therefore let us go to Him outside the camp and bear the reproach He endured. For we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through Him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name. Do not neglect to do good and share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” –Hebrews 13:13-16